It is shocking with all the information, education, and warnings provided by various organizations that we are still seeing increasing scam statistics. It is a $40 Billion a year business for criminals. With that kind of money, you better believe the criminal behaviors aren’t going to slow down anytime soon.
More than 10 million Americans fall victim to identity theft each year and over half of them identify as senior citizens. Older adults, in particular, continue to be a prime target for cybercriminals with most reporting they receive one piece of scam mail and at least two phone calls a week. This is likely because they have built up financial assets but also because they can be more trusting. Children also have a high rate of fraudulent activity likely due to the fact they have a blank-slate when it comes to credit and the necessary precautions most likely are not being taken to prevent it.
Regardless of age, no one is immune to the potential threats that exist. It is important to know how to recognize and avoid the tricky scams and traps that could affect your financial well-being!
Here are the 10 key tips to help keep the criminals at bay:
1. Shred Your Documents
Dumpster diving is still a thing! Criminals are going through your garbage to find personal information they can use. SHRED everything before you place it in the garbage. Trust Point shreds paper documents that contain any personally identifiable information, including names and addresses. As a Trust Point client, we can do the shredding for you, for FREE. Call your Relationship Manager to set up a time to bring in a box of documents.
2. Don’t Give Out Passwords
Anytime ANYONE asks for your passwords, social security number, PIN or account numbers – don’t give it to them! No one should ever call you and ask for you to provide this information over the phone. If you need to, hang up the phone, call the company back with a phone number found in a phone book or web search and not one the caller provides. 70% of scams start with a phone call so the best bet – if you don’t recognize the phone number, don’t pick up.
3. Don’t Get Pressured
Don’t let the pressure get you. Scam artists usually use a sense of urgency to try and get you to make hasty decisions. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a decision or providing confidential information. When in doubt, check with a family member, friend, or trusted resource, like an attorney, CPA, or your investment manager to talk through the situation. Take your time and be sure.
4. Don’t Fall For Charity Scams
Criminals like to use a charitable cause, especially ones associated with recent tragedies or natural disasters, to receive fraudulent financial donations. Don’t let them pull on your heart-strings without first checking out the charitable organization. You can search https://www.Guidestar.org or https://CharityWatch.org before writing that check to ensure the money is going to what it is intended for.
5. Don’t Blindly Trust Family & Friends
Family and close friends can’t always be trusted. It is sad, but it is estimated that 90% of all elder abuse is committed by a person known to the older adult. Relatives and even neighbors can be tempted to take advantage of an easy target so don’t make it easy. You may want to think twice about having a neighbor get your mail for you while you are away!
6. Don’t Click On Links From Unknown Sources
Do not click on links in an email or online when searching the web. Doing so may download ‘spyware’ on your computer that traces you every keystroke, including credit card information, date of birth, or even social security numbers. Even if the site is valid and has security, the spyware is picking up the information you enter. You may not even be appear as it could have little effect on your computer. View some Red Flags for emails here.
7. Don’t Provide Vital Information In Person
Another good ‘ole fashioned scam is the door-to-door attempts. Whether they are selling or claim they need to check something vital in your house, don’t let them in or provide any information until further verification can be done. They may pick up items in the house that will provide information to help them continue the scam.
8. Watch What You Put On Social Media
It is meant to be a place to share information, pictures, family events, etc. However, without the proper privacy settings, some of the information can be used by criminals to gather information. Wait to post pictures about your recent vacation until your home, otherwise, it could be an open invitation for criminals to pay your home a visit.
9. Use Strong Passwords
The number one password still being used today is ‘123456’ followed by the word ‘Password’. Passwords should be difficult and changed frequently. Need help coming up with a complex password? Consider a phrase that you can easily remember. Take the first letter from each word to form a password. Add characters, upper and lowercase, as well as numbers, if required or allowed.
10. Never Send Money First
NEVER! If there is a requirement to send any amount of money prior to receiving the intended ‘prize’, it is a scam.
The bottom line is if it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Be cautious and diligent to control falling victim to scams. Besides the reminders above, consider taking the following actions to prevent fraudulent activity:
- Establish an online account with social security at ‘my Social Security’. According to the AARP website, setting-up an account even if retirement is years away, can prevent identity thieves from getting to it first and receiving fraudulent benefit payments.
- Order a FREE copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.
- Sign-up for Informed Delivery through the US Postal Service. This FREE service provides a daily email with images of the mail that is to be delivered that day. This could be especially helpful for people who are traveling and have asked someone to retrieve their mail for them while they are away. This service can be stopped and started at any time.
- Consider a password locker. While the only sure-proof way to maintain a password is to commit it to memory, these password lockers are still a safer alternative to writing the password on a sticky-note and attaching it to the side of your computer monitor.
- Check your social media privacy settings. Consumer Reports has a number of good tips on protecting your privacy on Facebook and other social sites.
- Register with the national do not call list at www.donotcall.gov to prevent unwelcome calls.
Even if you follow every tip and trick to help prevent a scam, it can and may still happen to you. Criminals are constantly changing their tactics and trying to catch you off guard. So what do you do if you are a victim of a scam? Each situation may be slightly different, but the following checklist will point you in the direction to get started.
- Contact your identity theft insurance provider, if applicable
- Notify affected creditors (i.e. credit card companies) and bank/credit union to close or block affected accounts
- Change passwords for emails, online account access, apps, and other online locations where you enter a password
- Contact Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-438-4338 and complete a theft and complaint affidavit form
- Put a fraud alert on your credit reports
- Only need to contact one credit reporting agency to have the fraud alert placed on all three credit files
- Initial fraud alert is for 92 days; extended alert (up to 7 years) can be placed after filing a police report or completing the ID theft complaint form from the FTC located at IdentifyTheft.gov
- Consider a credit freeze on your credit report which will not prevent you from getting credit yourself, just notify you of changes to your report to detect fraudulent activity
- Contact the local police to file a report or file a statement as some creditors or insurance providers may require this
- Contact the Social Security fraud hotline if the social security number has been fraudulently used
- Get a new driver’s license, if the number has been used in any fraudulent attempt of activity